This week’s Torah portion, Toldot, begins with the words, “These are the generations of Isaac, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac.”
According to the Talmud, one of the reasons for the repetitiveness of this verse is to emphasize the fact that, according to natural law, Abraham was unable to father children at that age.
When Sara conceived and gave birth to a son the nations of the world scoffed, intimating that Abraham was not the biological father.
G-d therefore fashioned Isaac’s facial features to look exactly like his father’s, thereby proving his paternity and dispelling any misconceptions.
“The nations of the world” had no difficulty accepting Abraham’s ability to father children in the spiritual sense – spreading the belief in One G-d and fostering good deeds among mankind.
What they found impossible to believe, however, was that Abraham – by virtue of his faith in a G-d Who transcended natural law – could overcome his physical limitations and father a child in the literal sense as well.
The miraculous birth of Isaac demonstrated to the entire world that the physical body of the Jew – not only his soul – exists beyond the confines of nature and is created and directly sustained by G-d.
It is in this light that we can understand the words of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe, which he uttered before being exiled to the far Eastern provinces of the Soviet Union, where he was sentenced by the Communist regime for the “crime” of spreading Judaism.
Addressing the assemblage of Chasidim who had come to see him off, the Rebbe declared, “…And let all the nations of the world be apprised that it is only our physical bodies that are in exile and subject to the yoke of the nations. Our souls are not in exile and can never be subjugated! No one can exert any influence over us when it comes to matters of Torah, mitzvot (commandments) and Jewish practice!”
But what good does it do us to know that our souls are not in exile, if our physical bodies – the only medium through which we can observe mitzvot and spread the wellsprings of Judaism – suffer the hardships of the exile?
The answer to this question comes from Abraham, the very first Jew. Abraham proved that whenever a Jew uncovers the supernatural dimensions of his soul, its G-dly light will illuminate his physical being as well.
In this way the physical body is elevated above the laws of nature, to a plane on which no power on earth can exert any influence.